October 2, 2009 • Basketball

Intense-Situation Coaching in Basketball Part 1

How many basketball games every year are decided by a final winning play or a final clutch shot? And how many of those losses are sustained by the superior team?

A team that had out-prepared, out-hustled, and out-played, its opponents, but couldn’t produce the possession and point or two it needed to win in the final moments?

It simply did not have such a play in its repertoire, while the opponents did: They knew exactly what to do with the ball when they got it in the closing moments of the game.

The play had been in their game plan and practiced every day. Such plays are invaluable in the preparation for a game. Unless a team is prepared for these clutch situations, all of the hard work and effort expended by the coaches and players are going to go for naught.

Summing up: Unless these basic situations have not been carefully analyzed and then practiced a team isn’t going to win its share of nail-biters.

You cannot depend on plays that are drawn in a frenzied time-out rather than having been carefully thought out, discussed, taught, and practiced repeatedly. That is the way to assure performance in those last-second situations.

There doesn’t have to be a “right” or a “wrong” way of doing anything so long as it has been carefully thought out by the coaching staff. And once the philosophy has been developed, it must be thoroughly taught and sold to the players.

Offense-SOB/BOB Philosophy

Before late-game decisions are made, there are other ideas and philosophies that have to be developed.

Does your offensive team have “baseline (BOB) out-of-bounds plays” that will work against man-to-man and/or zone defenses? Does your team have specific plays from the sideline (SOB) that can be run against zone and/or man-to-man defenses?

Timeout Selections

Does the coaching staff want the players to call a timeout early in the game to protect possession of the ball as they’re about to fall out of bounds or get tied up after a loose ball? Or do they prefer saving their timeouts for late-game situations? If the coaches have no philosophy about this, such decisions have to be left to the players. How do the coaches feel about that?

Delay Game

Do you have a delay offense or more than one? What are your rules for it? Can anyone take the last shot? What kind of shots are acceptable and what kind are not acceptable?

When is the appropriate time to take the shot? Do you allow time for an offensive rebound?

Shot Selection

Another scenario that a team must recognize is the actual score. What type of shot do they have to take, and what type should they reject?

Don’t expect your players to read your mind-know exactly what kind of shot you want. One line of thought is that if the score is tied or you’re down as much as 2, you should take a high-percentage shot or a shot that could draw a foul, not a “3” (in the lane).

Others believe in taking a shot immediately. Obviously, if you are down by 3, you will need your best 3-point shot as he can get it, plus maybe a play that will be set up for him.

If your team is down by 4, the coaches must determine whether they want a 3-point or a 2-point shot, followed by a press (and ultimately a foul).

A definite philosophy should be agreed upon by the coaches in the pre-season and then taught to all the players in the program, so that there will be no doubt or hesitation about what to do during the intense situation.

Transition After Scoring

One of the most important decisions a coaching staff has to make then convey to all the players is what to do in the closing seconds of after the opponents have tied the score or gone ahead.

Note: the amount of the lead should also bear upon the coaches’ philosophy.

Do players know exactly how many seconds it takes to dribble full court or to the top of the key on a driving layup? Have you counted and timed the number of dribbles it takes to reach various points on the offensive end of the court (such as basket, top of the key, and 10-second time line)?

Does each player know who are the best 3-point shooters to take the final shot of the game? Has the team practiced these “buzzer beater” shots?

Transition With a Late-Game Deficit

Does your staff have a philosophy (and a plan and a play) to react to the opposition’s score in the last minute by 4 points or more?

Or what do you want to do if you now trail by 3 points with more than or less than 10 seconds to play?

What does your team do if you trail by two points with more than or less than 10 seconds, or trailing by one point, or when the score is tied (with more or less than 10 seconds remaining?

The coaches might not have practiced all of the scenarios that could actually play out in a game, but they should at least have a mental plan on what they want to do.

After the opposition scores late in the game, do you want your team to automatically call a timeout and set up a play? Many coaches adhere to that because they feel it will help them organize their team for a planned (and hopefully practiced) play?

This is a sound reason, but the timeout will also give the opposition an opportunity to organize and possibly substitute better defensive players or set up a full-court press, or change a half-court defense.

Without a timeout, the defense would be unable to make any of these adjustments. Who will benefit more from the timeout, your offense or the opponents’ defense? Does the coaching staff have a sound philosophy for their decision?

A philosophy opposite the automatic calling of a timeout after the opposition scores is for the offensive team to push the ball quickly down the court with a play that has been practiced repeatedly.

The defensive team obviously cannot substitute better defenders set up full-court pressure, nor (probably) set up a different half-court defense.

In fact, not calling a timeout can sometimes catch the opposition off balance, allow for better offensive match-ups, and give the offensive team a high-percentage shot.

The question that must be asked: “Is your offense prepared enough to execute a last-second play in a pressure-packed situation?”

Does your team fully understand what type of shot you want and who should take it?

Last-Second Shot from Full-Court

When your team calls a timeout and must travel the length of the court, there are two important factors that can change the philosophy.

One you may or possibly not be allowed to run the baseline. This will take away very important options that an offensive team could incorporate into its “last second shot” philosophy.

Second scenario: Determine whether you (offensive team) have any remaining timeouts. If you do, any offensive pass receiver who catches the ball in the frontcourt could call an immediate timeout.

This would allow you (offensive team) to reorganize and run a “Sideline Out-of-Bounds” play that starts much closer to the basket.

The coaches must know which scenarios exist and how he is going to handle them. He must convincingly sell his philosophy to every player and then have all of them practice that play in game-realistic situations.

The coaches must devise a play that could also handle a surprise defensive change. Each play should have a primary and a secondary shooter in case the primary shooter is taken out of the play defensively.

Quick Sideline & Baseline Out-of Bounds Situations

Do you have a philosophy and a play for Offensive Out-of-Bounds and Underneath Baseline Out-of-Bounds situations when your team needs a quick shot because of having just a few seconds left on the clock, a “Three-pointer,” or a quick three-pointer.

Late-Game Desperate Free-Throw Situations

Do you have a philosophy and a special play to fit the needs of your free-throw shooting team late in a game with your team down by two or more points?

Do you have any special “rebounding stunts” that will intentionally miss specific free throws to get the offensive rebound?

Do your rebounders know how to beat the defensive box-outs and does your free-throw shooter know how to miss the free throw?

Do you know how to slow the opposition down from inbounding the ball after your team has made the last free throw, so that you can set up a full-court press?

Delay Game/Freeze Situations

Do you have a plan of action that will allow your offense to simply milk the clock without being fully committed to “letting the air out?”

Do you have an offensive philosophy based on the time and score about when to start your commitment to stall?

Do you have an offense (or two) designed to achieve that purpose? Do you have a complementary defense that goes with the offense that you are implementing in that situation?

Do you have special inbounds plays to get the ball to your best free-throw shooter whenever your team has the lead and is being pressed late in the game?

Do you take advantage of the times when you are legally allowed to run the baseline when taking the ball out of bounds?

What is your coaching staff’s philosophy very late in the game when you have the lead and you have to make a choice between inbounding the ball to one of two players-your best free-throw shooter or best ballhandler?

Do you and your team agree on who are your best free-throw shooters, your best ballhandlers, and your best 3 point shooters? Coaches and players should agree on the choice in each category. If they cannot do so, the team may break down in some crucial situations.

How does the coaching staff determine the best free-throw shooters and best ball-handlers? How does the coaching staff convince the team who those specific players are?


Instituting a philosophy and specific offensive plan for the many situations requires a great amount of time, effort, and creativity by the coaching staff. The plan will be much more fundamentally sound if it is developed in the off-season.

The difference between winning and losing can sometimes hinge on the call made on a technique that could have been called either way.

Winning just four of such games can drastically turn around the look of the entire season.

Which would you rather see on the scoreboard: A team that has gone 19-7 or 5-11? Case closed.

A coaching staff should design a wide range of interpretations in the off-season so that the answers can be immediately made available for the season. Every player should be able to grasp the reasoning behind all the decisions.

Working the players harder or longer over the last 10 to 15 minutes of every practice can prove invaluable to the team.

The appropriate techniques can now be fully explained, taught, and practiced with everyone (players and coaches) participating. It will improve everyone’s confidence in the coaching and officiating units.

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